LEESBURG, Va. — Virginia State Police said the first six months of the year saw more than 350 drug overdoses and over 80 fatalities just in Northern Virginia.
While awareness is growing, a round-table led by U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock and Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman made clear that everyone involved in the fight against opioids needs to continue to confront the problem head on.
“People are in the dark,” Leesburg Police Chief Greg Brown said. “I talk to people in my neighborhood, ‘Oh, it could never happen to my kid.’ Yes it can.”
Although the average age of someone who overdoses is 30, Chip Muir, general counsel at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said someone’s introduction to opioids tends to come in high school.
“It really is your first involvement with the opiate, which is generally ‘I’ve had my wisdom teeth extracted and they gave me Percocet,’ or ‘I had the knee injury playing sports and it’s just the thing that got me through it’,” Muir said.
Comstock pushed for better engagement at the national level through social media and argued that there needs to be less emphasis on punishment and more on treatment for those who do become addicted.
Ginny Atwood, whose brother died after a six-year fight with heroin, said she believes her brother could have been saved on three occasions if treatment options had been more readily available. The foundation she now heads tries to help make the overdose-recovery drug naloxone available to people who may need it.
Comstock said she’s heard of pushback from school systems leery of getting too involved.
“There is a, ‘It doesn’t happen here.’ The parents don’t want to know it. Schools don’t want to know it,” Comstock said. “It is everywhere.”
She said even corporate America is starting to see the urgency of the matter. One Drug Enforcement Agency agent who attended said he’s hearing from more companies interested in helping employees address problems that are hurting their bottom line, too.